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Roy Harper - Stormcock CD (album) cover

STORMCOCK

Roy Harper

 

Prog Folk

3.95 | 190 ratings

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questionsneverknown
5 stars Roy Harper's unique body of work, along with that of John Martyn's, provides a great litmus test for thinking about the land where prog and folk meet. It is customary to begin with Harper's links to the likes of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, who hired and cited him respectively (add to this Jimmy Page's appearance on "Stormcock" and Alan Parsons engineering). But what is it about Harper's own music that makes it a blending of progressive and folk, or simply prog folk?

Harper's 1971 release "Stormcock" is, whatever we want to call it, a simply remarkable album, consisting of just four lengthy tracks: "Hors d'Oeuvres," "The Same Old Rock," "One Man Rock and Roll Band" and "Me and My Woman." The second and third tracks extend beyond twelve minutes, but surely "progness" is not just a matter of song length, however much that helps. In some ways, these songs share some qualities with the likes of Dylan's more epic songs, "Desolation Row" or "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." Both present that gravity-defying feeling of songs that have taken off into the stratosphere, amazed at their own sense of ambition, with verses that just keep coming and coming like a dare. The first thirteen verses of "Hors d'Oeuvres," for instance, keep pushing the same endrhyme, from "assize" to "thighs" and on and on. And, again, like the Dylan of those particular songs noted above, Harper offers up lyrics of beatific surrealism and startling originality, even as he can then drop down into hilarious satirical lines like the following (again from "Hors d'Oeuvres"):

"The critic rubs his tired arse / Scrapes his poor brain, strains and farts / And wields a pen that stops and starts / And thinks in terms of booze and tarts / And sits there playing with his parts. / He says I'm much too crude and far too coarse / And he says this singer's just a farce / He's got no healing formulas / He's got no cure-all for our scars / He's got no bra-strap for our bras / And our sagging tits no longer hold a full house of hearts / And you know what, I don't think this little song's gonna make the charts."

While the songs here might have the basic instrumentation of folk music (solo acoustic guitar dominates), Harper opens his songs out to space to let them breathe and develop. Though at first each song may seem rather simple, they all build in increments that drive forward and outward. This is especially true of something like "The Same Old Rock." Never flashy, the album startles with its slow accumulation of strange sounds, organs, strings, echoed effects, and Harper's own vocal harmonies, which emerge unexpectedly from strange corners in the aural space. Though these songs don't seem to go through a large number of changes, they never end where they began, and they leave the listener with the feeling of an ever-opening horizon.

It is in these ways that Harper definitely creates a kind of progressive folk or folk-inflected progressive music. These songs test limits and leave the listener in new, unforeseen terrains, even as they keep the musical form and instrumentation fairly minimalized. This is not Genesis, but nor is it Pete Seeger (bless them all). Great contemporary figures like Joseph Arthur, Rachel Unthank and Beth Orton owe much to Harper's pioneering explorations. With Harper's entrancing voice, strange and wondrous lyrics, and unique compositional development, "Stormcock" is an album to return to again and again.

questionsneverknown | 5/5 |

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